Arc of the Tantrum

Help clients manage children’s tantrums better

Have you had this experience? A client tells you about their child’s recent meltdown, and describes how they tried to handle it. But you can tell that what they were doing was actually making things worse.

I think that a lot of therapists have had that experience! Trying to explain to parents the how and why of the mistakes they’re inadvertently making—plus offering guidance about what they should do instead—can easily fill an entire session.

The “Arc of the Tantrum” infographic

The infographic below is for parents (and clinicians!) to understand their children’s behavior cycles better. It also helps them increase the effectiveness of their responses. The infographic is titled “The Arc of the Tantrum” but it’s important to note that tantrums happen in humans of all ages. It’s just a catchall phrase to reference “freaking out” mood and behavior.

The first page illustrates these basic ideas:

  •      Tantrums are events that have different phases
  •      Behaviors (verbal, nonverbal) vary with each phase
  •      Recognizing the phases (and your child’s triggers) is a valuable skill

arc of the tantrum infographic katie malinski

The second page builds on that concept, offering:

  •      Descriptions of what the phases can look like
  •      Clear and concrete suggestions about which parenting techniques work with each phase. (Plus a reminder of some that don’t work!)

Teaching clients to recognize tantrums early

Although sometimes it seems like kids escalate within nano-seconds, it is possible to increase awareness of early warning signals. For example, parents can get better at recognizing times of day or situations where their child is more vulnerable to triggers, as well as improve knowing what is likely to be a trigger. These can sometimes be prevented!

Parents can recognize non-verbal cues, and become experts at sending them purposefully, too!  Just a few basic concepts about body language, physical proximity, and timing will go a very long way in helping parents de-escalate difficult situations.

And finally, the kind of parenting that usually feels the best—the successful heart-to-heart talk—is possible. It’s much more likely to be effective when parents save it for a peaceful, private moment later.

Once parents are more skillful at recognizing their child’s “stage”, they can be more skillful at responding in a way that matches what the child’s brain can handle right then. The benefits of parents fine-tuning this skill are huge: better relationships, more ‘felt safety,’ more effective behavior shaping, increased family peacefulness, and more. I hope this infographic will be a helpful addition to your work with parents!

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